Sunday, June 27, 2010

Paradox of Language

As my career has progressed one thing that can lift me up or conversely drag me down is the linguistic capabilities of my coworkers. My wide vocabulary and semantic orientation for precision drives some people batty and I have often been made to feel pretentious at best and elitist at worst for using "fancy words" (e.g., cognitive dissonance) in business conversations.

Over the last year my wife and I have watched the complete Tudors series on Showtime. While my wife is most fascinated with the drama, cinematography and history I can't seem to get enough of the linguistic pirouettes engaged in by subjects and nobility in discussions with governmental figures and the king.

As I have watched the fabulous dialogues unfold I have been ironically reinvigorated with my desire to use language more precisely in that I am at the same time vexed with the paradox therein - it's not what you say, it's what other people hear.

There is another paradox, however, that fascinates me even more; how language is at once the vessel to new rational understanding and the horizon that bounds our ability to conceive. It is both the device of perception and the blinder.

This conundrum became apparent while watching the Tudors in that I was stunned how lords accused of treason, and royalty seeking fealty could use language in such a precise manner that enabled verbal jousting of a form we rarely see today. What was equally apparent is that we have lost something in our culture - nuance.

In our constant endeavor to use terms and language accessible to the common man and shunning orators who use complex concepts and ideas as "too intellectual" we have lost the ability to see subtle yet important differentiators in topics in culture, art, business, relationships, politics and everywhere else.

The English language has an intrinsic beauty in its unique ability to differentiate between concepts so close that they can seem one and the same but have chasms of difference in meaning when applied. The English speaking populace used to pride itself on it's ability to break new ground and find new conceptual understanding through the use of language and dialogue.

The very construct that we use to break through our boundaries and create new communicable understanding is also the barrier that we must break through if we are to mature our intellectual capabilities as a species. This is apparent when we talk about how certain concepts or cultural idioms are only understood if you can truly think in a particular language. Some words do not have equivalent translations between languages. One mildly famous but erroneous example is Schadenfreude (which actually has an English equivalent - epicaricacy).

So what? Who cares?

It is my opinion that the inevitable result of the dumbing down of our cultural linguistic capabilities is the rise of anosognosia (meta-incompetence - the inability to discern competence from incompetence) in that when you lose the ability to describe the difference between things you begin to lose the ability to see the difference between things. One unexplored consequence of this trend is that deception will increase as those with a greater command of the language will be able to dupe those with only surface level understandings.

I beg all of my readers/followers (are there more than 3 of you now?) to fight back! Do not succumb to the penchant for simple un-nuanced language. Rather, educate your listeners and readers such that they may begin to see discernment as a valuable skill to protect themselves from deception and chicanery.


The Tudors - like it

Nuanced Language - like it

Aspersions of elitism for using nuanced language - garbage

"How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive? " - Homer Simpson


Gary said...

Git 'r' dun fer grammer!
Yes, I did lose a few universal karma points tonight...

anomalogue said...